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Chicago freelancer arrested, again, on the job

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A Chicago-based freelance photographer has been arrested at news scenes on obstruction charges twice in the last month, once after allegedly being told he couldn't…

A Chicago-based freelance photographer has been arrested at news scenes on obstruction charges twice in the last month, once after allegedly being told he couldn’t take photos of a police-involved shooting.

Mike Anzaldi, a 12-year veteran journalist, says his back-to-back arrests "stifled my ability to gather news. There’s no doubt this type of behavior on the part of the police department creates a chilling effect in news. No doubt about it." Authorities have declined to move forward with the charges stemming from his second arrest, on Nov. 3. But Anzaldi is due to go on trial Dec. 4 in the earlier case.

It all began, in Anzaldi’s telling, on Oct. 22, when he showed up at the scene of a police-involved shooting. He says neighborhood residents invited him onto their property to photograph and videotape the adjacent crime scene. But at one point, he says, he was told to put the cameras down: "I’ve got this (police) spokesperson on tape saying, ‘You’re OK to stay where you are — you can stand there, but you can’t record.’"

Anzaldi told reporters he complied at first, but when he later started to film again the spokeswoman came back and asked for his credentials. His police-issued press pass was in his car. He claims Chicago does not require journalists to actually wear them.

Nevertheless, Anzaldi was arrested.

Neither the Chicago police nor the local state’s attorney’s office returned phone calls seeking more information on Anzaldi’s case. But police officials have told local reporters Anzaldi crossed the crime scene line at least once and refused to produce credentials or ID upon request.

According to Anzaldi, his arrest report alleges he crossed the line two or three times; he claims he never did it at all. 

And even after he was released, Anzaldi says a judge had to step in before the police handed over part of the equipment he had been carrying when he was detained. He told reporters about 500 digital photos had been erased.

Anzaldi says he’s sure he wasn’t personally targeted that October day. It was a sensitive crime scene, he figures, with an off-duty officer having gunned down a robbery suspect, and "I personally happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time" — caught between a high-stakes police event and the First Amendment.  

But his second run-in, a few weeks later, made him feel like a marked man.

Anzaldi had arrived that day at the scene of what turned out not to be an actual shooting and was taking photos when an officer stopped him and asked for his credentials. One thing led to another — his name was radioed in to dispatch, he ended up back at the police station — and, as the photography blog discarted reports, he was ultimately arrested again on the same charges. He spent the night in jail.

That second case was thrown out, Anzaldi said, after the officer didn’t show up in court, freeing him up to prepare for trial in early December on the prior charges. 

He’s still out covering the news, but "on some level" Anzaldi says he’s taking more precautions at crime scenes:  "I’m not going to go up to the point that I know legally I could go, because I could end up in jail." He’s hoping in court, "cooler heads" will win the day.